A medical team examines elderly villagers in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture, Guizhou province, on Tuesday. (HUANG XIAOHAI/FOR CHINA DAILY)
When village clinic doctor Sun Zhengyang learned that fellow villager Zou Suying had been transferred to a common ward from an intensive care unit of Zhoukou People's Hospital on Monday, he felt relieved.
"Thanks to the 'green channel' built by the local health department for susceptible groups and the targeted health monitoring effort, Zou received timely treatment," said the 41-year-old doctor in Huangzhuang, a village in Zhoukou, Henan province.
On Dec 31, Zou sought medical help at Sun's clinic when she developed COVID-19 symptoms, including high fever, fatigue and distressed breathing.
"She was running a fever of 39.6 C and registering a blood oxygen level of 85, which was dangerous for a 65-year-old suffering from chronic diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes," said Sun. "I immediately called the emergency department of Zhoukou People's Hospital, a key local public hospital designated to help handle severe COVID cases from my clinic."
Just 10 minutes later, an ambulance arrived and provided Zou with oxygen as it rushed her to the hospital for further treatment.
Later, Sun kept in touch with and supported doctors at the hospital.
After China recently optimized its epidemic control policy, Chuanhui, the district of Zhoukou that includes Huangzhuang village, set up what is known as a "green channel" for susceptible groups, including people age 65 and older and those who have chronic diseases or are pregnant, particularly in rural areas heavily affected by COVID-19.
Wang Minsheng, a local health official, said the district has 369,000 people living in nine communities and 33 villages, which set up detailed health records of 37,000 residents who were at relatively high risk.
"With emergency circumstances, they can ask help from family doctors at the grassroots or call 120 to get immediate emergency response," said Wang. "We recently increased ambulances and trained more dispatchers for the 120 emergency center to relieve the pressure."
In Zhoukou, rural medical institutions such as Sun's clinic are responsible for treating patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms, while public hospitals focus on severe cases.
"There are four medical workers in our clinic, and I am in charge of 856 residents in the village, which has a population of 3,560," said Sun. "In fact, we have recorded their health condition for over a decade."
Village doctors, who are deemed front-line health guards for villagers, have sent service cards with their telephone numbers to each household. Since they know the people well, they play a pivotal role in sending patients with the severe cases for intensive medical care at large hospitals designated by local health authorities.
In China, 80 percent of medical resources are in cities, and the collaboration model helps optimize allocation of medical resources and better secure the health of the rural population at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging, experts said.
With guidance from the large hospital, "early last month, we issued notices to the villagers, urging them to prepare fever and cough drugs," said Sun, the village doctor. "Moreover, with the health condition database we established, we can easily provide a treatment plan once they become infected.
"We are confident to pull through," he added. "We will continue recording the health information of our villagers, which is of great significance in helping medical workers quickly deal with emergency circumstances."
Zhoukou is considered the epitome of China's ramped-up efforts in COVID-19 control in rural areas.
On Saturday, the nation rolled out a guideline on such control for rural areas that requires local clinics to improve capabilities in receiving and treating infected patients and ensure that the clinics are equipped with a fever facility. Supplies of medications and antigen tests to rural regions should also be stepped up, it says.